The West Wing: An Old Testament Hermeneutic?

Warning: This blog post contains spoilers.

The West Wing

The West Wing is an American TV series which follows the (fictional) US President Josiah Bartlett through two terms in office.

The President is very intelligent, holding a Nobel Prize for economics. He possesses an air of morality which causes others to place their trust in him. He also comes across as very personable; with a sense of humour which is appreciated, a love for those who are close to him and a manner which wins friends and influences people.

In short President Bartlett is the model President, he is the ideal.

However, as the TV series progresses (over seven seasons) there seems to be a downward spiral. It very quickly becomes clear that the Presidency creates numerous tensions in his marriage. There are a number of decisions which the President makes that are morally debateable at best. But, undoubtedly, the biggest upset is the revelation that the President has been suffering from a remitting/relapsing course of MS for eight years. This revelation comes to light just before his election campaign for a second term in office.

Yet, it is not only with the President that we find a declining progression – this is also seen with his staff, as they slowly disappear. There is a feeling that even if the President doesn’t cut it, well, at least the staff surrounding him will bring hope.

This hope does not last.

To begin with the Deputy Communications Director leaves to pursue his own career in politics. The replacement for the Deputy Communications Director leaves to work for the Vice-President’s office. Then the Chief of Staff suffers a heart attack that puts him out of action. This results in the Press Secretary being promoted to Chief of Staff, but this then leaves a void in the Press office. After that the Deputy Chief of Staff leaves to run an election campaign for another candidate. Finally, to top it all off, the Communications Director is fired for a breach of confidential information.

By the end of the seven seasons the audience is left in disarray.

This President offered and promised so much – he looked like the ideal President. However, it did not develop and we are left wanting more. As the series ends a new candidate is running for Presidency with President Barlett’s former Deputy Chief of Staff at his side and the unspoken promise that, surely, he will do a better job, personally and professionally, than the previous President.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament also begins with an ideal man – Adam. He is a man in close relationship with the Creator, God. He is a man enjoying a marriage of purity. He is a man who lacks no food. He is a man with a clear purpose in life. He has everything that any man could want, he is the ideal.

Unfortunately this does not last, and by Genesis 3 Adam has messed up. He has disobeyed God, and as a result lost his relationship with him, damaged his relationship with his wife, finds food difficult to come by, lacks purpose and ends up like every other man since – wanting what was freely given in Genesis 1 and 2.

This leaves us looking to other men in the Old Testament to fill this void left by Adam – we look for another ideal man.

We find Noah who shows great faith in building an ark, but we are disappointed to find him naked and drunk shortly after the flood had subsided.

We see Moses who shows great character in leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, but we are saddened that he does not make it to the Promised Land.

We come across Gideon who defeats an innumerable army with only 300 men, but soon we find him blatantly disobeying God.

We find David who faithfully defeats Goliath and looks like the king Israel have always needed, but then we are horrified to find him tied up in an intricate maze of betrayal, adultery, murder and remorse.

We see his son Solomon claim the throne and build the magnificent Temple so God can dwell with his people, but later we find that his has slid into partying, drinking, womanising and searching for meaning in this life.

All of the major characters of the Old Testament fail – just like all of the major characters of The West Wing. Therefore, the reader of the Old Testament, like the audience of The West Wing, is left in disarray, wanting more. Thankfully, this is not where Scripture ends (unlike The West Wing). Scripture continues until an ideal man does appear, the God-man, Jesus Christ. In him we find all of the failures of the Old Testament corrected and we find hope for the individual.

This is how the Old Testament should be interpreted. It all points forward to the one who will not disappoint us, to the one who will not fail us, to the one who is perfect for us and to the praise of God, who through Scripture reveals the One to us: Jesus Christ, the Messiah.


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